Walter Carlverley, gentry from the west Leeds village that shares his family name, inherited wealth and land from his father, but Walter had a few problems. Firstly he didn’t love his wife. He wanted to marry a local girl but his parents forbade it and insisted he married a girl within his social standing. As such, Walter had an unhappy marriage that fuelled his vices of drinking and gambling. By the early seventeenth century, his fortunes had dwindled and he was broke. On 23 April 1605, infuriated by losses and intoxicated by alcohol, Carlverley did the unthinkable.

While his family slept in Carlverley Hall, Walter took his dagger, crept into his eldest son’s bedroom and stabbed him to death in his bed. Named after his father, young Walter was only four-years-old. Carlverley then moved to his wife’s room and with a single thrust of the dagger, he drove it to the hilt and left her for dead. Next, a short walk across the landing to the nursery. 18-month-old William didn’t stand a chance. Finally, he walked to his middle son’s bedroom, but Henry wasn’t there. Through the drunken fog, Carlverley recalled that Henry was staying at his nanny’s as he was carrying a fever. Intent on completing what he had begun, Carlverley saddled his horse and set off to murder his three-year-old son.

Thankfully, Carlverley’s wife, Philippa, had not suffered a fatal wound and managed to drag herself to the servant’s quarters to raise the alarm. Walter was stopped on the road just moments away from taking his third child’s life.

In court, Walter declined to plead and was found guilty of murder. His sentence, peine forte et dure, the process of laying a board on top of the individual and stacking large boulders on it with the final stone being placed three days after the process had begun. A slow and agonising death where the life is literally squeezed from you. Walter’s final words were screamed on day two of his punishment, “All those that love Walter, loup on, loup on!” (loup meant to jump). An old servant of Carlverley’s took pity and jumped on the board to hasten up his master’s death. The servant was later hanged for interfering with the sentence.

Walter was buried in York, but then later exhumed and laid to rest with his ancestors in Carlverley church.

Children of Carlverly from days gone by would try to summon the ghost of Walter. Placing their caps in a triangle on the church steps, then chanting:

‘Old Carlverly, old Carlverly, I have thee by the ears,
I’ll cut thee in to collops, unless thou appears’.

Apparently, on numerous occasions, their baiting worked.

There have been numerous accounts of the church bells ringing throughout the night. Each time this has happens, when the caretaker unlocks the church door to investigate, the ringing stops and the church is found empty.

There have also been many reports of Walter’s restless spirit haunting Carlverley Woods, so much so that the area has been formerly exorcised by the church on three occasions – the last being successful, apparently. Local legend has it that Walter will not reappear again as long as the holly grows green in Carlverley Wood.


A couple of points of interest: Henry Carlverley, the surviving son, regained the wealth that his father had squandered and later generations of the family moved to the grander residence of Oulton Hall, Leeds.

A theatrical dramatisation of Walter’s fateful night was written in 1608 - entitled ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’, it was believed to be penned by the Bard, William Shakespeare.